Bakersfield Californian Examines Expenditures for Kern County First 5 Program
Since 1999, First 5 Kern has spent about $4.8 million on consultants, public relations and studies rather than health care and other benefits for low-income children, the Bakersfield Californian reports.
First 5 Kern administers funds raised by a 1998 ballot measure to increase taxes on cigarettes by 50 cents per pack to finance health care and other benefit programs for children younger than age six. The organization distributes money to other organizations that provide the services.
According to the Californian, during the last fiscal year, more than $2.7 million, or almost 22% of First 5 Kern's operating revenue, went to "professional and specialized services." Since 1999, these services have included:
- More than $3.3 million to California State University-Bakersfield for studies on the effectiveness of the First 5 Kern program;
- About $2.5 million for a Web-based data-tracking service, which shared costs with neighboring communities;
- More than $265,000 to a public relations firm; and
- About $207,000 to a consultant who retained his relationship with the group after marrying a senior staff member.
According to Kern County rules, administrative costs for First 5 should not exceed 8% of its budget. However, money spent on consultants, public relations, data tracking, reports and publications "fall into a financial gray zone" because "current state law isn't specific about what 'administration' includes," the Californian reports.
First 5 California, the state commission, last week said it was working with lawmakers to reform parts of the county agencies' operations, including lowering overhead costs, eliminating conflicts of interest, streamlining funding and clarifying pay policies.
Details will be released Dec. 14, according to First 5 California spokesperson Ellisa Bupara.
Sen. Dean Florez (D-Bakersfield) said, "This money is supposed to go to kids, not to professors at Cal State Bakersfield." He added, "Every kid in Kern County could be getting universal preschool and universal health care. Yet we continue to fund providers on a project-by-project basis. And somehow, lo and behold, the money lands on these (specific projects) where politicians can use them to show voters they're doing something."
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal said that funds from Proposition 10 are "not going to health programs or smoking abatement programs but to build little political fiefdoms." He added, "It should be no surprise that the money is grossly misappropriated. Whenever there's a feel-good initiative on the ballot, people will vote for it without thinking critically about how the money is going to be spent" (Wenner, Bakersfield Californian, 12/4).